This week TV soap Coronation Street puts ‘hidden homelessness’ under a much-needed spotlight, as character Sean Tully – middle-aged, gay and desperately trying to find work after being laid off from his factory job last year – ends up sofa-surfing.
As one of the least visible forms of homelessness, largely unaccounted for in official statistics and practically uncountable, being brought to national attention by a soap titan like Corrie is an important step in raising awareness of its existence.
Rough sleepers on the streets are only the tip of the iceberg in Britain’s escalating homelessness crisis, and – as Sean’s story will show – the lines between losing your flat, sofa-surfing and sleeping in a doorway are catastrophically fragile.
“A lot of people are only one payday away from being homeless,
“The one thing we took very early on from speaking to Shelter when we started researching this storyline is that it can happen to anyone,” explained Corrie story editor Lindsay Williams. “He’s just an ordinary person who had lost their job, used up several favours with friends and was too proud to admit how desperate the circumstances he was in were. Even when he did admit it he had nowhere to go. He just ran out of options eventually.”
As a stopgap for people facing the crisis of having no roof over their head for the night sofa-surfing is on the rise: Crisis reports a 53 per cent rise in sofa-surfers from 2011-16, while a BBC/ComRes survey last year found that nine per cent of people under 25 had slept on a floor or sofa for over a month.
“A lot of people are only one payday away from being homeless,” pointed out Stephen Rowley, head of support at Manchester homelessness charity Barnabus. “We see everybody come through our doors, from entrenched street homeless to people who just don’t know how to ask for help, they are very proud, never offended or have taken substances.”